Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Stage and screen actor Olivia Poulet gives a strong performance in this powerful Ravenhill play
Mark Ravenhill’s Product (a 60 minute one-hander) premiered in 2005 at Traverse Theatre, with the man himself in the role. It is a very funny, bitter script and in this revival Olivia Poulet delivers a top notch performance as a hapless producer, Leah, trying to persuade an actress to take on a dreadful part in an excruciatingly awful film. We, the audience, are the actress and the more Leah tries to bring the flaccid film-script to life the more we know it will be a no-brainer to walk away.
The product in question is real life tragedy and the play is about how it becomes commoditised for mass consumption, so we stop thinking about the issues. The film being pitched so relentlessly is a human interest drama featuring the still grieving widow of a 9/11 victim who cannot find love in her now meaningless existence of the corporate high life until she meets Mohammed, beds him and then is drawn into a plot to destroy Europe (or at least Euro Disney). A straight-to-video B movie produced by Sylvester Stallone perhaps. At one level this is an ‘industry insider’ piece written by a man who must have had personally experience of the soul destroying experience that Leah is having. In-jokes about notes for actors, the skills of theatre writers versus film script hacks, and the allure of product placement to secure funding are littered throughout but in no way stop the piece being accessible for the whole audience.
This production is a simple set-up and focuses on Poulet’s high energy performance, supported by a very funny soundtrack of cheesy pop, totally at odds with the subject matter of the film. At times some really garish lighting reminds us that if the film by some miracle every got into production then any trace of subtlety or vestiges of serious tone it had left would be annihilated by very tacky in-your-face production values.
The only minor quibble with the context is that, because the piece was written in 2005 to reflect current affairs then, it now feels a bit dated, particular as a very much alive Osama makes a cameo appearance. However there is no shortage of more recent acts of terror to choose from which you can substitute for yourself and the horror of 9/11 and the fall out (Iraq, Afghanistan) is symbolic rather than the point of the piece.
The weakness with the production is that at an hour it begins to feel like a single interesting idea stretched too thin. Poulet would do well to stop her repeated use of her one prop, the paper copy of the script. Once it is established that she is ‘doing all the voices’ the audience doesn’t need it in her hand as a reminder.
Overall, though, this piece still has the power to provoke and question how we all collude in the seediness of a serious issue being mangled for mass entertainment, and Olivia Poulet is an engaging and entertaining actor to watch.